Missouri River Test Flows Begin

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' representatives provided information about plans for the Fort Peck test flow during a Missouri River water management meeting held in Poplar on March 28.

In November 2021, the Fort Peck Dam test release EIS Record of Decision was signed. The purpose of the test flows is to evaluate the potential for achieving pallid sturgeon spawning and recruitment on the upper Missouri River.

John Remus, Missouri River Basin Water Management office for the northwestern office chief, explained that the new targets for the test flow are 18,000 cubic feet per second in Wolf Point during April/May and 22,500 cfs in Wolf Point during June. Originally, the high amount was 28,000 cfs.

Part of the reason for the shift is to achieve better temperatures, according to officials. Remus noted that this is only a test in order to collect data. If benefits are seen, then officials might use that information to shape another test. He added that officials will monitor fish on both the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

To keep stakeholders informed, WebEx meetings are scheduled on a weekly basis on Wednesdays at noon mountain time. There will be a link to the conference on the Corps of Engineers' website. Press releases will also provide information.

If you have any questions, email missouri.water.management@usace. army.mil. Remus said officials will try to give out as much information as they can as soon as they can.

Remus said the Corps is conducting "human consideration monitoring" including aerial photography, physical surveys, cultural resource monitoring, dam safety monitoring and water quality monitoring.

After an irrigator expressed concerned about a possible shortage of water near the end of the growing season, Remus said that Fort Peck will end the growing season with less water than normal, but officials will try to store more water during the winter months.

One goal is if something is discovered that can be done positive for the pallid sturgeon, then a longterm solution will be explored.

Remus said another test is unlikely for next year, but the EIS requires that between three and five test flows take place. The next test flow might not occur for 10-15 years. Remus said it's important for everyone to comply with the EIS in order to keep some control of the situation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is required by the Endangered Species Act to perform three to five test flows from Fort Peck Dam in the next several years. The test water flow amount released from the Fort Peck Dam is anticipated to be less than originally planned, according to U.S. Corps of Engineers' officials.

During a conference call in early March, Joe Bonneau, U.S. Corps of Engineers, said the maximum amount is now planned to be 22,000 cubic feet per second in June. Originally, the high amount was 28,000 cfs. The level will decrease to 8,000 cfs in early July.

Bonneau said the amount will be a flow that occurs naturally about every three to four years. He added that the reduction takes away some of the concerns that stakeholders have expressed.

He told stakeholders on the call that it's a test and not a permanent change in operations.

Eastern Montana farmer Dick Iversen expressed his concern whether growers will have the ability to fix pump sites. He said the work by growers would need to take place in April instead of May when the test flow increases.

"We need to know in advance to fix pump sites," Iversen said.

Also, he raised concerns that when the flow is reduced to 8,000 CFS in early July, the pump sites might need work again. This will be due to the higher flows in May and June that could cause some pump sites to be silted in again. This time of year is tough since the river banks will be saturated and not safe to maneuver the equipment needed to remove silt.

When asked what will be the difference for the pallid sturgeon in 2024 compared to 2023, officials pointed to better control of the timing and providing warmer water conditions.

One of the project's goals of the test is to investigate responses of pallid sturgeon adults and survival of young fish. Officials are looking to find implementation pathways that are sensible and sensitive to the range of concerns expressed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Missouri River Water Management Division started its weekly virtual meetings on Wednesday, April 24, to keep residents updated on the status of Fort Peck test flows. The call attracted more than 60 participants.

The public can access the meetings, which start at noon (mountain time) on Wednesdays, at https://usace1.webex.com/usace1/j.php?MTID=ma8b176ff7ce553ae5f1f645f3a8629a4

During the call on Wednesday, John Remus, Missouri River Basin Water Management office chief, said that the process will begin at Fort Peck Dam on Friday, April 26. Test flows will reach 18,000 cubic feet per second in Wolf Point on Wednesday, May 1, and hold for three days. The amount will then be reduced to 13,000 cfs. He said not much flow is anticipated from the Milk River.

Bonneau, reported that fish monitoring has been going on for about four weeks in order to understand how the fish are doing compared to other years. When asked where the pallid sturgeon are currently located, Bonneau said around Wolf Point or maybe a little above Wolf Point.

Iversen asked if there was a way to have real-time monitoring so people could observe the water levels. Bonneau said he was opened to discuss the possibility.

Roosevelt County resident Dana Berwick said some people have wondered if it would be a challenge to put boats into the river because of the process. Bonneau answered that crews have been able to put boats in the river with similar water flows.

 

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